How Passion for a Cause Led to Success/Interview with Melissa Cook

by Carolyn Edlund

The owners of Scene East partner with nonprofit organizations to promote their photography while raising funds and awareness for worth causes.

colorful fabric

Melissa Cook started card company Scene East over a Saturday breakfast brainstorming session with her husband Bob in their favorite local restaurant. Looking for a way to sell prints to promote Bob’s photo safari business, she wondered if they could make a profit while giving something back to their favorite causes in Africa. The manager of a local bookstore told them that “prints don’t sell here, but greeting cards do” – and a business idea was born.

While traveling to Rwanda with Women for Women International, Melissa approached the group to suggest that she would shoot photos in Rwanda to make cards for them, and sell the cards to raise money. This began what they hope will be a long and very productive relationship and a model for other partnerships.


african girls


Bob Demchuk, Melissa’s husband, has over 35 years experience running Scene East as a film production company and Melissa has worked in the finance field for 25 years. She focuses on marketing and developing new partnerships with nonprofits and potential distributors. LinkedIn, Facebook and personal networking are important tools in making those connections.

Melissa states, “In our travels of the past several years, we’ve grown even more passionate about our interest in supporting wildlife conservation, education, health and women’s causes—with an emphasis on developing countries. When you see what it looks like to live on less than $1 per day, it changes your perspective and makes you realize how far your dollar can go to transform lives. We’re committed to doing something much more than just writing checks.”


African design


AS: How do you approach nonprofits with your line of cards to get their sponsorship and partner with them?

MC: We start with groups we already know and support, or organizations we’ve seen in action in our travels. We focus on groups whose mission resonates with us, and where the nonprofit’s goals are consistent with ours. From there, it’s simple:

We highlight Scene East’s ability to create a beautiful, high-quality product that will represent the group to its best advantage. We outline our capabilities in manufacturing, marketing, distribution and fulfillment. We developed a highly professional proposal and operating process which allows us to identify the group’s needs and outlines how Scene East can help them meet their goals. This gives the development staff confidence that Scene East will deliver on its promises.

We ask the nonprofit to do as much as possible in terms of marketing the cards to its supporters—through their normal communication channels.

We outline a revenue sharing deal with the group—and the cards help in their grassroots marketing efforts.

Wildlife photographer


AS:  We all learn from mistakes, and every business person makes them. Can you share your thoughts on pitfalls to avoid?

MC: Don’t spend money on marketing and promotion until your product line is fully fleshed out and complete. You only get one chance to make a first impression with a retailer, so start with friendly local distributors who will give you an honest assessment of your line’s strengths and weaknesses.  Don’t be in a rush to go national.

Think about your pricing strategy! We were careful to price our products competitively—after an exhaustive study of price lists for many card companies we saw at the National Stationery Show last spring. But in this economy, you have to have something extra-special to get through to retailers and consumers.

AS: Any tips for beginners who would like to start their own greeting card business?

MC: Be prepared to take the long view! You will have some early successes and will find support if you have a great product—but costs are always higher and revenues slower to come in than you expect. (Yes, they taught me this in my business school, now I believe it.)

Don’t be intimidated by the large number of strong competitors in this business—there’s always room for someone with a truly differentiated idea and product line.

Understand your own goals and the economics of your particular business. Are you doing this to pay the mortgage and so you can quit your day job?  Or are you just looking to take advantage of your artistic talent and make a few bucks on the side? Yes, it really is worth sitting down with an Excel spreadsheet and running a proper business model to make sure you know what you are getting into.


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  1. […] of greeting cards provided by Scene East. See owner Melissa Cook’s profile and story here. Tags: Business of art, marketing, retail products, success Share this […]

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